One of the biggest reasons we recommend couples work with a dedicated planner or day-of coordinator is because of the content of this blog – wedding timelines are a doozy! Not only do you have to put together what is going to happen minute-by-minute (and no, not just for the fun of it, but to help all vendors keep the day organized), but you’ll also need to have someone to ensure that the timeline is executed as intended.
But we get it, not all of you are able to have a wedding planner or day-of coordinator as one of your vendors. Or maybe you do, but they’re completely dropping the ball. Whatever your situation is, we’ve put together a little – okay, slightly longish – guide to help you come up with a timeline that’s personalized to whatever kind of wedding you may be having, be it fusion or traditional.
The Big Picture Stuff
1. Start with the Ceremony & Reception
Know that even with the best of wedding timelines, the ones with trips to the mandap accounted for by the second, your wedding day probably won’t be perfectly executed according to plan (cue blood-curdling scream from Type A personalities). With that being said, the best place to start creating your wedding day timeline is with the 2 times that shouldn’t be subject to change per your venue contract – and that’s the time that your ceremony starts and when your reception is supposed to end.
Put in a 10 minute buffer for when your ceremony ‘starts’ and when the action kicks in because Desi standard time is REAL and a pain in the ass. Your guests aren’t perfect and will probably dilly dally a little bit, so having that cushion will help ensure that your day doesn’t get off to a rocky start.
No matter if you’re having 1 ceremony or 2, make sure that you and your family communicate with your officiant(s) to get an idea of how long your ceremony is expected to take. If you have a set time in mind and you’re lucky enough to work with a flexible officiant, be clear about what your timing expectations are. Here are some other details to consider when mapping out your ceremony time:
- Are your ceremonies taking place on the same mandap where your guests stay seated? Then leave a very short gap between both ceremony start times.
- Are your ceremonies taking place in separate rooms where guests need to be moved? Add some time to account for that.
- What about outfit changes for the bride and/or groom? Take that into consideration, too.
Now it’s time to focus on the other main event leading up to your ceremony, and that’s baraat. Here are some things to think about when coming up with a start time for this:
- Are there any religious prayers taking place at baraat? Talk to your officiant or family members to understand a timeframe for this.
- What about cultural traditions like milni? How many family members will be participating in this? Allot an appropriate amount of time for this.
- How long of a distance will the soon-to-be married couple (brides, are you getting in on the action? We LOVE a bridal baraat!) be traveling to get from the starting point to the venue entrance?
3. Cocktail Hour & Reception Start Time
It’s the moment everyone’s been waiting for…time for the party to get started! We know it’s called cocktail ‘hour,’ but depending on the timeline you’ve already established for your wedding, you decide to allow for more time than that for your guests, and even for yourselves, to enjoy some snacks and drinks. What’s important to think about when timing your cocktail hour:
- Do you and your spouse want to attend cocktail hour? You’ll be taking pictures in your reception garb prior to this (don’t worry, we’ll get to these pics in a second), so maybe consider keeping it longer in case you want to jump in at the tail end and mingle with your guests.
- Work off of your reception start time. Want your guests to have enough time to booze it up and eat some food? Think about giving them a little more than an hour.
4. Bridal Hair & Makeup
South Asian bridal hair and makeup is no. Joke. Getting extensions put it, flowers pinned on, and a full face of makeup can easily take 3 hours in the morning and a couple of hours after your wedding ceremony. Did you have a makeup trial to see how long it would take? Or has your team communicated a set amount of time they need to work their magic? This will dictate what time you need to get up in the morning to start your day, and impact how much time you’ll have for photos right after your ceremony.
Getting your photos taken can EASILY take up a lot of time, especially if you’ve both got a huge family that will want to take photos post-ceremony. But let’s rewind to the very beginning of your day first. Considerations:
- Your photographer(s) will be there to take photos of you and your soon-to-be spouse as you’re getting ready. But what about any other ‘get-ready’ photos that you might want with the bridal party, groomsmen, pets, or family? Make a list, pass it out, and put a trusted friend or family member who can double as a drill sergeant to be in charge of that.
- Thinking about a first look? Give yourself ample time to get those photos taken, too.
Fast forward to the conclusion of your ceremony (yay!). Now it’s time to take some photos with family, friends, and the people in your wedding party. Things to consider:
- Is the timeline tight already? Got a TON of people that need to be included in photos? Consider grouping them together to knock it out quickly. This means that instead of going one family or set of friends at a time, get all of ’em in for a huge group photo: friends together, bride’s maternal side, groom’s paternal side, etc., etc. Again, let people know ahead of time that they need to stay to stay behind for photos. Prepare a list so everyone knows what order their photos will be taken, and task someone who can herd them all to get it done quickly.
And finally, your pre-reception photos. After you both have freshened up and gotten dressed to the 9’s in your reception outfits, it’s time to get another batch of photos taken before the night’s festivities begin. Depending on how long the bridal hair and makeup team need to get you reception ready, your plans to attend cocktail hour may or may not pan out.
Don’t forget to communicate with your photographer on this! If there is any expert on wedding timelines aside from your planner (if you have hired one for your wedding weekend, which you really should, in which case you don’t even need to worry about putting a timeline together on your own!), it’s going to be your photographer. Send them a rough copy of your timeline and check in with them on what they think about it. Let them know what the start and end time for your venue contract indicates, what your bridal hair and makeup team need to get you ready, and any other pertinent details that may impact timing. A bonus if your photographer has covered weddings in the past at your wedding venue – they’ll have a feel for the layout of the space and where you’ll want to have certain photos taken, which can also change the timing of things.
Details, Details, Details
So you’ve got the main elements of your timeline sorted out, but now you’ve got to think about the tiny elements within your wedding ceremony, and your reception.
1. Wedding Ceremony
Who is entering the ceremony, and when? Maybe you’ve got a flower girl or 2, then there are the members of your wedding party, family members, and then the main event – the soon-to-be married couple. Again, be generous with the time that you tell guests the ceremony is going to start and the time that the first person treks down the aisle.
Same thing goes for your reception. Except not only do you have to figure out entrances, but you also need to figure out timing for the first dance, dances with parents, performances from other family members and friends, speeches, cake cutting, dinner, and then dancing.
Run It By Your Vendors
Coming up with a timeline on your own is daunting, and unless you’re a wedding planning expert you definitely may have missed some things. Don’t forget that you’ll need a little time to sign your marriage license, get some grub in (breakfast and lunch), and potentially throw in travel time if your events are at multiple venues or if you’re getting ready off-site. Send a group email out to your vendors like your venue coordinator, DJ, and Photographer to see what you’re missing and how to add in some buffer time. You also want to consider how your timeline fits into the packages you’ve booked with your vendors – is your photographer package for 8 hours that day? Is it less? Communicate with everyone so you can figure out how to make your timeline work.
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Founder & Chief Visionary, proud fur mom of 2, amateur artist, Netflix binger, wino, and chocolate addict.